Saturday, January 31, 2015

'’The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment One


STARTING OUR JOURNEY THOUGH AN IMPORTANT BOOK. The first chapter of ‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ is titled ‘Feet’ and covers the period between 1783 and 1810. The reason soon becomes clear. In macro terms, the trade and movement of slaves is shifting from slaves brought from Africa to the selling and transport of ‘surplus’ slaves raised on breeder farms in Virgina and the Carolinas. They were transported South and West largely on foot, in slave ‘coffels,’ groups of slaves anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred, with the men bound together in heavy chains, with women bound in ropes walking behind. A few ‘white’ slave drivers rode on horses, making frequent use of the lash and swallows of whiskey to keep the line moving and less aware of pain. ‘Coffel,’ by the way, is a term added by slaves themselves, borrowing from the Arabic for a caravan including slaves.

The key point Edward Baptist wants to make in this chapter is that even in this period, groups of the upper classes were making money from slavery, even if they never owned a single slave. Myriad land speculation schemes prevailed, with the prices rising as the land was made profitable by and for slave labor, and the commercial paper for these sales became bonds, traded and sold in New York and New England, with immense profits going into the family coffers of many of the Founding Fathers and their friends. The slave economy and the commercial economy were linked like breathing in and breathing out.

Two side stories. Not all whites liked slavery, As the ‘coffels’ came into Western PA near what is now Pittsburgh, a ‘white’ group called ‘The Negro Club’ would lure flatboats laden with slaves to the shore with a promise of rum. They would them attack the overseers and free the Blacks to take off into the woods.

The other tells about Abraham Lincoln, the president’s grandfather, killed by a Native American, who was in turn shot by the president’s uncle. The son Thomas tried to keep the farm going in Kentucky, but kept being cheated by enslavers and their land agents. He then took his wife and young son, Abraham, away from Kentucky and north of the Ohio. The two incidents surely had a conflicted impact of the thinking of young Abe. More to come…

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